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Identify Your Pain: What Do You Want to Improve?

Greatness lies within you.

Sometimes it may be hard for you to see it, or recognize it for what it is, but we can promise you that it’s there. And we want to help you discover it and uncover it for good. 

But before you can even start down that path toward self-awareness and personal growth, there is one important question you have to answer: what is it that you want to improve?

Until you can identify this pain, you aren’t going to be able to make much progress away from that pain and toward a new you.

We want to help you identify the pain in your life, so you can be free of it. If you’re ready for things to get real, then keep reading.

What is “pain?”

Before we get too deep into the process of identifying pain, let’s start by understanding what sort of “pain” we are talking about. 

We think of pain as the thing that is holding you back—the thing that is keeping you from becoming the person you want to be. Sounds simple, right?

Well, not exactly. 

False pains

It seems like a easy enough question: what do you want to improve? But in reality, it’s not always easy to find the answer. 

Sometimes, when we think about the things causing pain in our lives, we immediately jump to external circumstances, things like our careers, finances, material possessions, or other people. It’s so easy to think that if you got the promotion, if you met the person of your dreams, if you made more money, or if you had a nicer car/house/wardrobe, then you would be happier. 

The problem is, science fundamentally disagrees with this mindset

According to the research, happiness isn’t the result of any of these things. In fact, more often than not, it precedes them (e.g. it’s not that people with a high income are happy, it’s that happy people are more likely to have a high income).

These external circumstances often take the blame for our unhappiness, but in reality, they are false pains, serving as scapegoats for the deeper, more meaningful pain that is really causing our problems.

This is both good news and bad news.

It’s good news because it means that you are more in control of your destiny that you may have previously realized. It’s bad news because when you can’t rely on external circumstances to create your happiness, it’s up to you to create it for yourself.

So, if circumstances like these aren’t actually your “pain,” then what is?

True pain

The kind of “pain” that we are referring to is more internal than external. It has more to do with your beliefs, your attitude, and your motivation than it has to do with the world around you.

Consider the subtle differences between these false and true pains:

False pain: My boss won’t promote me.
True pain:
I feel unappreciated at work.

False pain: I can’t lose weight.
True pain: I consistently make unhealthy choices. 

False pain: My spouse doesn’t give me what I need to be happy.
True pain: I am unhappy with my marriage.

True pain requires ownership. It requires acknowledging that your happiness has nothing to do with what is outside you, and everything to do with what is inside you. If you’re ever going to make peace with yourself and with your life, you have to uncover the true pain that is holding you back. 

How to identify your pain

If you’re going to effectively identify your true pain, or the area of your life you want to improve right now, you’re going to have to ask yourself some tough questions. And, even harder, you’re going to have to be as honest as you can about the answers.

Here are the questions you should ask yourself when you’re trying to identify your pain.

What am I afraid of?

Facing your fears is no small task, but it’s important to identify the fears you experience most often and most strongly. Once you identify these fears, you can turn away from fear and towards hope and love.

Sub-questions under this category might be:

  • What do I actively avoid whenever possible?
  • What makes me feel sad or scared whenever I think about it?
  • What thoughts do I push out of my mind as soon as I catch myself thinking them?

You have the power to overcome any fear. Calling those fears out is the first step to moving past them.

What do I regret most?

Regrets are not pleasant, but they are informative. By examining the choices in our lives that we are unhappy with, we can come to a better understanding of choices that will make us happy.

For deeper help identifying your regrets, ask yourself questions like:

  • If there is one thing I could change about my past, what would it be?
  • What would I be doing if I wasn’t living my current life? Does that alternate reality appeal to me?
  • Who is no longer in my life that I think of or miss often? What is it about that person that I miss? What role did that person fill in my life?

Regrets don’t have to fill you with despair. Let your regrets guide you toward future choices that you won’t regret.

What excuses do I make most often?

All of us make excuses from time to time, but excuses can hide true pain. The very definition of “excuse” states that when we make excuses, we are trying to lessen blame by justifying a fault, weakness, or offense. In other words, we justify or defend our pain so that we don’t have to face it.

It can be hard to own up to the excuses you make regularly, but if you want to improve your life, it needs to be done. Ask questions like these to help you be honest with yourself:

  • What good advice have I received and ignored?
  • What do I always procrastinate doing…and why?
  • What have I told myself I “can’t” do that I know I actually can?

Excuses trap us into complacency and a constant state of “settling.” You are better than that. Stop making excuses for behavior that is ultimately causing you pain.

What expectations do I have for myself?

Expectations can be useful for recognizing your potential and pushing yourself forward. They can also, however, be overly rigid, dangerously harsh, or downright unrealistic. Breaking down those expectations, though, can help reveal the pain you’re experiencing and what you’re trying to do to avoid it.

Want to get clear about the expectations you have for yourself? Try asking these questions:

  • When do I feel most confident? When do I feel least confident?
  • What have I accomplished that I feel proud of?
  • How often do I go to bed content with the work I’ve done that day?
  • What task can I never seem to get done? 

If you can identify the harmful expectations you set for yourself, you might be able to identify the pain that lies beneath them. 

What hurdles to self-awareness are in my way?

Identifying your pain can be…well, painful. It requires you to face parts of yourself that you probably don’t like very much. It requires healthy self-awareness—knowing yourself, accepting what you know, and using that information to move forward.

In our “hurdles to self-awareness” series, we talk about some of the biggest things that keep people from becoming truly self aware: the Skeptic, self-doubt, shame, and pride. These things may be keeping you from self-awareness, which in turn keeps your pain hidden from everyone, including yourself.

Facing the pain

Once you answer these questions in an honest and vulnerable way, it’s likely that you’ll have an easier time identifying the pain that’s holding you back.

One thing to remember when identifying your pain is that it’s personal, and the answers will look different for everyone. As long as you are being honest with yourself and not being tricked by false pain, there’s no “right” answer about what your pain has to be in order to be valid.

These pains could be things like:

  • Low self-confidence or self-worth
  • Health/fitness issues (smoking/drinking habits, lack of exercise, unhealthy eating)
  • Anger management problems
  • Difficulty in relationships
  • Dissatisfaction at work
  • Fear of failure
  • A specific goal you haven’t reached
  • A constant state of overwhelm or stress

Regardless of what your pain is, it will always be within your power to fix it. That’s how you know that the pain you’ve identified is a true pain, and not a false one. 


Identifying your pain is not as simple as it seems, but it’s more important than many people realize. If you want to create real change in your life, identify the true pain that is holding you back.